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Keeping Discus

Discus are one of the more challenging freshwater fish to keep. This archived forum discussion covers key factors to consider when keeping Discus. Visit the forum for current discussions about this and other topics.

5/15/10   From: pashataylor  To: All
Hi to All,
I have been looking at my tank daily noticing except for the beautiful bleeding hearts, my tank looks empty. I have 11 bleeding hearts and 4 pearl gourmais that hide all the time.

I have a planted tank but I have to admit I thought I would see more of the Pearls. I see them only at feeding time. They are beautiful. I also have albino bristle nose , 3 farowellas and striped loaches. I am just entertaining the idea of getting maybe a pair of Discus for my tank. Would anyone in this forum see a problem with adding this kind of fish to my tank? It isn't a necessary thing just an idea. I also getting an elephant nose about 8-9 inches next week from my brother. Any advice would be appreciated! Please don't fuss, I'm not good a compatibility. Thank you Pasha
5/15/10   From: dano01  To: pashataylor
Do a good bit of reading about Discus care before you buy.
5/16/10   From: darcarr  To: pashataylor
I hope you will get some information from members of this forum who keep discus. As you know I don't have discus! ...but since you have not had your questions answered, I looked for some information on another site (http://www.thekrib.com/Fish/discus.html#0) that I've found helpful when research cichlids.

I thought I'd share with you information from thekrib. You also might be interested in reading this article from thekrib site. I posted it below for others who might want to read one discus keeper's experience and advice.

By Dean E. Fear                  

I purchased my first discus in 1977, a dollar sized brown discus (Symphysodon aequifasciata axelrodi).  He lived about two weeks. After this brief experience I shared the popular yet erroneous viewthat discus are a difficult fish to keep.  It had been well over a decade before I had finally gotten the nerve up to try again. I have written this article in the hopes that those of you out there that are interested in discus, but are apprehensive, will give them a try.

There is a great deal of mysticism surrounding discus. Hard core discus enthusiasts are often very secretive about their machinations. Mad scientists hidden in their basements or their garages producing who knows what mutation.  Reverse Osmosis (R.O.), Deionization (D.I.), black water extract, discus buffer, a cornucopia of terms to be digested.  Well, the truth of the matter is that maintaining discus really isn't all that glamorous. Water changes, cleaning out the bottom of tanks, making food and more water changes is more like it. Maintaining discus really isn't hard.  It's just a little demanding.

Before I go any further, I'd like to point out there are a multiplicity of philosophies on maintaining discus. I am sure there are several roads to ultimate success, each with its own potholes.  This article will expound the techniques that I have had success with and is not intended to discredit any other method. Reasons for choosing one method over the others are beyond the scope of this article, but are excellent topics for the future.

Someone said that we don't really take care of fish we take care of water.  If we provide fish with the appropriate environment they will take care of themselves.  (Water and waste management - what an exciting hobby!)  Plainly and simply discus require clean water at a temp between 82 F and 86 F.  Take note here, I didn't say soft water and I didn't say acidic water.  As long as water parameters are not extreme, discus can be successfully maintained. Breeding though can be another story.  However, I think keeping the fish alive should be the initial goal for the novice discus owner. The easiest way to provide clean water is to do frequent large water changes.   This correlates to about 50% water changes two to three times a week.  Without proper water changes you will stunt your discus, probably irreversibly.  Adult discus grow to be on average 5-7" total length (TL).  Unfortunately, I view too many "adult" discus that are 3 or 4" TL.   

As far as filtration is concerned, with a proper regime of water changes, the only filter needed is a sponge filter.  However, a hang-on filter such as a Aquaclearþ provides a little extra peace of mind.  Gravel and the corresponding under gravel filter (UGF) are not recommended.  Gravel is great place for detritus and parasites to hide.  When cleaning the tank it is just in the way. A bare bottom tank is a generally accepted housing for discus. (Hey, you spent so much on the fish you shouldn't have any money left to buy gravel!)  If you do insist on having gravel and the sunken treasure chest, it is probably best to grow the fish out to about 4" or 5" inches first and then set up a "show tank."
It sounds pretty easy so far, so you are probably asking "What's the catch?"  The achilles heel of discus is that they are much more sensitive to parasites and disease than other cichlids.  It is of the utmost importance that discus you purchase are "disease free." An appropriate analogy of purchasing a parasitized or diseased discus is the purchasing of a race horse with a broken leg. It is challenging for the experienced discus owner to successfully diagnose and treat discus, and almost an impossibility for the beginner.  Discus just don't respond well to "shot gun" treatments. A successful diagnosis is usually dependent on a microscopic examination.  Unfortunately, many hobbyists do not have access to a microscope.  Invariably it is more cost effective to invest in quality stock up front than to try to "clean up" fish.  

This sensitivity to disease and parasites necessitates the proper quarantining of any new additions to the discus tank. Unfortunately, many hobbyists take a laisser-faire attitude about   \quarantining new specimens before bringing them into their fish room.  I strongly recommend that once you have established a
disease-free environment for your fish, that you don't casually add new fish.  Discus can contract diseases which can devastate an entire collection in a matter of days.   All new additions to your collection should be subjected to a strict quarantine protocol which includes an aggressive prophylactic treatment for parasites. Furthermore, it is best not to mix discus with other species of fish.  Other fish can carry parasites which they can tolerate, but discus can not. The most common example of this condition is angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) and capillaria.  Angelfish may handle a case of capillaria (internal worms) without noticeable distress.  This is not the case for discus.  Adding an angelfish which appears healthy to your discus tank can result in a tankful of discus infested with capillaria.  As such, I prefer to keep discus in a species-only tank.  Simply, the more you expose your discus to, the higher the probability of the transfer of parasites or disease.

Another important aspect of discus health is proper diet. Many live foods can introduce parasites.  These include tubifex worms and black worms.  There is much debate whether you can "clean" these foods and make them acceptable.  My personal opinion is that since there are plenty of other alternatives, why take a chance! Beefheart based mixes such as Jack Wattley's Discus Formulaþ are an excellent basic diet.  These can be supplemented with safe live foods, such as white worms, and commercial dry foods. Dry food such as Tetra Bitsþ should not be overlooked.  It is important to train your fish to eat a food that can be easily administered when someone else is taking care of them.  Beefheart will foul a tank if overfeed.   

Psychological conditions play an equally important role in discus health.  Stress can lead to disease.  Behaviorly, discus are a schooling fish, especially at a young age.  They will be happiest in a small group.  A lone discus may become very stressed without any "mates."  Two discus can suffice as long as one doesn't constantly harass the other.  (We sometimes forget that Discus are cichlids!).  To the aspiring owner I would suggest 6 juvenile discus in a 29 gallon tank with an eventual upgrade to a 55 gallon tank.  A good rule of thumb for stocking levels would be one adult to 10 to 15 gallons.  One final note, a common fallacy exists that discus require a planted tank to feel secure.  Their natural river environment does not include plants.  Tree roots constitute the only "vegetation."  Accordingly, discus adapt readily to life in bare tanks.  Also, remember plants are just another avenue for parasites to enter the tank.

I hope this article has helped clear up any general misconceptions you may have had about discus.  Future articles will go into depth on specific topics of discus care.  (BTW: for the two of you out there that would prefer to have metric measures here are the conversions: 1 gal = 3.7853 L and C = ( F - 32) * 5/9).)

This article is Copyright (C) 1994 by Dean E. Fear.  It may be freely distributed in its entirety provided that this copyright notice is not removed.  It may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in commercial documents without the author's written permission. This article is provided "as is" without express or implied warranty. discus that are 3 or 4" TL.
5/16/10   From: darcarr  To: pashataylor
HI Pasha,
I forgot to post this in the last message. I found a few lists of fish that are apparently compatible. Perhaps a discus keeper on the forum will comment on their experience and let you know what tank-mates have worked for them.

5/16/10   From: pashataylor  To: darcarr
WOW! That was really helpful. Thanks... I really have doubts about putting Discus into my tank now and will probably not. I think that is a good decision too based on some of the material I have read so far. It is good to do research before hand so you don't make a mistake and combine the wrong fish together. That high of heat would not be good for the community of fish I have. The Discus would not feel comfortable in my community tank. The water changes I could handle. Overall, the Discus would do better in a species only tank. Thank you Darcy, for helping me see the light and not making a big mistake. This is why I love this forum. Pasha
5/17/10   From: darcarr  To: pashataylor
Hi Pasha!
I don't mean to be discouraging. I think discus are incredible fish but probably very "high-maintenance" and would probably make your fishkeeping more complicated!  Maybe Dan will comment on the maintenance of his discus tank.

Given the size of your tank, you could add another large school of tetras that would spectacular to see swimming together but would be easy to keep in your current tank? Have you noticed fish at your LFS that would look good with your Bleeding Heart Tetras? I've enjoyed having diamond tetras. They are beautiful in a large group and display sexual dimorphism. I think Fred has a nice group of diamonds. He also has those lovely rasboras too!

I've enjoyed Apistogrammas too. They are entertaining to watch. The Apisto. cacatuoides are not shy and spend a lot of time out in view chasing & courting each other.

5/17/10   From: pashataylor  To: darcarr
Thank you Darcy. I have not heard of the last fish you named. I will look those up and see what I can find. I would like to know first how many fish I can have in my tank that would fit comfortably. That is, I would love to see movement of fish, but definitely not near over populated. Is there someone out there that would know that answer? As you know I do 2 water changes per week. One on Wed. and one on Sun. each about 15%. I just think that is good overall maintence now matter how few fish you have. Pasha
5/17/10   From: darcarr  To: pashataylor
The Apistogrammas are dwarf cichlids from South America (keeping in theme with your tank). You saw photos and video of mine in my post on Adoring Apistos. I have the Apisto cacatuoides. They are not shy and they normally breed in harems so I have 1 male and 3 females. They are fun to watch but won't be a spectacular schooling fish like some of the tetras.

I talked to Elias (my 9 yr old son) about your dilemma and your South American theme:
He mentioned Angelfish! LOL! But honestly, I don't know a thing about them but recall them being a challenge for various reasons (particularly behavioral). He loves them and wishes we had an appropriate tank for them.
5/17/10   From: fjf888  To: darcarr
I think your son has a point. I don't remember all of Pasha's fish off the top of my head, but I Angelfish might be a good choice. They would show themselves more than the pearl gouramis and they would reach a good size in the 100g. My only concern might be how they would mix with the pearl gouramis. My angelfish did not mix well with my dwarf gouramis. The Gouramis aggressive, not passive as described in the text books and they picked on the angelfish to their detriment.

5/17/10   From: darcarr  To: fjf888
Fred, I'll let him read your comment. He'll be thrilled that you liked his idea of angelfish for Pasha's tank!
5/19/10   From: pashataylor  To: darcarr
All of your ideas sound great. I will, of course, do more research on all of the fish you have suggested so far. The angel fish are lovely fish however, I do not want to get anything that will have a confrontation in the tank. I loved your video. You are getting to be a pro now... I loved the color those fish too. I don't plan to hurry my decision with a new purchase. I did that already. So, I will continue to research on all your suggestions. I'm not sure how much room I have left in my tank without being crowded so I must plan carefully. These next few purchases will be adding the final touches to my tank.

As of now I have: 3 albino bristlenose plecos, 3 Farowellas, 5 striped loaches, 11 bleeding heart tetras, 4 pearl gourmais in a 100gal planted tank Also Bubba ,the elephant nose, is being shipped on Wed of next week.
5/19/10   From: b007iron  To: pashataylor
Just my opinion, I say go for it if you really want them. I don't belive in that whole 1 inch rule but more in the upkeep and maintenance.How long has it been set up?I think if you have cycled tank,plants and i belive you have an( XF5 filter ? ) you have plenty to do what you want to do. Boy i would hate to tell what i have in my 125 people would think im nuts in here.....
5/19/10   From: pashataylor  To: b007iron
Yes, I have a Fluval FX5 filter and my tank has been set up for some time now, since May 31, 2009. It's only in the thought stage now, about adding more fish. I may wait until I get my new arrival Bubba to see how he changes the tank. I'm in no hurry to do anything new with this tank, as I have learned my lesson with patience!

I have a 30gal. tank sitting around. I was also thinking about putting it to use. It is also in the thought stage. Pasha
5/19/10   From: darcarr  To: b007iron
LOL! I understand your hesitation in disclosing the number and type of occupants in your 125G...and your concern that someone might call you "nuts". People have (or at least one person has) said I'm "nuts" for what I have in my 50G tank!

I quote a forum member in this post to me in one of my recent threads:
"all those fish what do you have? a thousand gallon aquar.? where do you keep the manatees? all kidding aside...are you nuts? amonia might not be the problem. its living in their own excrement that may be an issue.. i said may. talk to the plant guy hell tell you about nitrates, nitrates, tomatoes, tomatoes yeah yeah"

I agree with you that Pasha could do what she wanted in the tank especially with her skill level and prudent maintenance schedule. BTW: Very curious about what you have in your 125G.
5/19/10   From: Muffuletta  To: All
Hmm, what makes Fred think we don't already think he is nuts. And to quote xador (do you think he caught on I edit all his posts now) calling you nuts in order to reassure somebody who may be a self proclaimed nut everybody is a nut may just be a bit nutty. Does any of this make sense?
5/20/10   From: darcarr  To: Muffuletta
Wait a second....was that manatee comment posted by Xador or you?

We may never know. Quoth Xador, "k sa ra sa ra".
5/20/10   From: fjf888  To: darcarr
Now I understand. Xador is the Muffuletta's alter ego posting to liven up the forum.

It all makes sense now.

5/20/10   From: Muffuletta  To: fjf888
LOL, I wish. I could save time by posting directly.
5/22/10   From: pashataylor  To: darcarr

Thank you for posting the article. I finally got my computer working and online again. I changed internet service and was online trying to get hooked up with my new service for quite some time. Had to buy a new modem and a new something else for cable. This computer was in the shop when they came to hook everything up. Finally though.

I did a lot of work yesterday on my tank, trimming, cutting back, replanting, cleaning, changing media in the filter just getting my tank ready for Bubba. I am getting so nervous and the arrival! I added a power head to my tank to help with circulation and getting the bottom stuff moving around so it can be forced into the filter for cleaning. I hope it works.

Your articles were very informative and very enjoyable to read. I loved your video too. Those are really beautiful fish. Thank you so much for all the effort you put into that! I am saving it so I can reread it over.

The kids left Thursday, and my fish came out, all of them. It is quite here, I am watching them now as I post and they are all swimming around, the pearls, the loaches! Everyone! Could it be the power head or could it be the silence of the house? I just put in the power head last night. This is amazing and wonderful to see!

Thanks for everything Darcy! Pasha
5/22/10   From: darcarr  To: pashataylor
You're welcome. I enjoy corresponding with you on the forum and via telephone!

That's great to hear that you are enjoying the quiet time with the tank today and that they fish are active. I look forward to seeing some photos. We can talk again at anytime if you need some assistance posting photos. I bet you're happy to have your technology problems solved.

Thank you for your compliment on the photos/video. I'll let you know when I post my new video from the 14G after I added the rasboras. Such cool fish that really add color and movement to that tank.

5/22/10   From: pashataylor  To: darcarr
By the way, was that the 14gal aquarium in the video, the one with the smooth round corner? If not what size was that? That was a beautiful tank? Is it glass? I really like it!!! Pasha
5/23/10   From: darcarr  To: pashataylor
I have videos of the 20G and 14G tanks on YouTube now:  http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=darcarr100&aq=f

The 20G has the Apisto. cacatuoides, hatchetfish, and cardinal tetras. It is acrylic. 20G regular SeaClear. The edges are slightly rounded as you can tell when I move around the corner of the tank in the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2xgLV5Iklw

The 14G is a Biocube made by Oceanic. It is glass but has rounded edges. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDECP_lmoDQ

I definitely like the rounded edges instead of having seams and sealants visible. My 50G is a SeaClear acrylic with rounded edges. (Acrylic is soooooo much lighter too!)

Thank you!

5/23/10   From: pashataylor  To: darcarr
simply gorgeous!! Pasha
5/28/10   From: discus_lover  To: pashataylor

hm,nice videos...

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